Assurance of the Believer
Introduction to Exposition on 1st Thessalonians 1:3-7
Paul’s letter, as usual, starts with a thanksgiving/blessing section immediately following the introduction. What is unusual in this particular letter are the additional expressions which occur in 2:13 and 3:9, showing strong affection and encouragement for the ThessalonianChurch. Additionally, in this first prayer the remembrances serve a dual purpose for these young believers.
First, Paul’s goal is to assure the believers as they continue to walk through an extremely difficult life situation. Secondly, Paul also uses this occasion to teach the new converts truth about the strength and power of God’s election. Paul, forever the theologian, also takes this opportunity to not only thank God but to edify, assure and teach his spiritual children.
As so often happens, in Paul’s prayers, he gives thanks for matters that will be mentioned eventually in his letter to the recipient. Faith is the topic in Ch. 1-3; Love is prayed for in 3:12, taught in 4:9-12; while concern for their hope and endurance is found through out the letter. Remembering the godly actions of the Thessalonians is what Paul viewed as the three most eminent of Christian graces, which characterized their lives (faith, love and hope). Greene in his commentary on this first Thessalonian letter shares:
“In spite of the disadvantages of being a young and persecuted congregation, these believers gave clear evidence of possessing genuine and recognizable character.”
Two aspects of these Christian qualities must be noted, first, each of them are outgoing. Faith is directed towards God, love towards others (and God), and hope towards the coming of the Lord. Correspondingly, faith rests on the past (what God has done), love works in the present (to those people surrounding the believer), and hope looks to the future. Faith, love and hope are thus reliable evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
Secondly, each of the qualities are productive. Faith, love and hope are not just abstract qualities that are believed but not seen, they have concrete, practical results. Faith produces works, love - labors and hope - endures.
We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The “we,” revealed in verse 1, is Paul, Silas, and Timothy, all co-workers together during Paul’s 2nd missionary journey. This plural pronoun confirms the consolidation of heart and prayer from these three leaders who worked and taught among Thessalonians. Paul shares their remembrance of the Thessalonian believer’s endeavors before God. It becomes clear that Paul is not talking about work, labor and endurance that will yet be (future work), but that which has already been accomplished in and through Jesus Christ.
 Greene, (2002) 89
a) Work produced by faith
For Paul Christian activity proceeds directly from a work of faith, an active expression of faith. Thus Paul endorses the views of James as he said, “My brothers, what is the gain if anyone says he has faith, but he does not have works? Is the faith able to save him? So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.” (James 2:14-17) Paul also speaks in one place of “every work of faith” (2nd Thess 1:11), and in another of “faith that works through love” (Gal. 5:6). A work of faith is an action representing the transforming power of rebirth (2nd Cor. 5:17). Simply stated believers engage in holy, righteous deeds stemming from faith to the honor and glory of God. Paul states categorically that salvation is by faith and not by human works (Eph. 2:8-9), but he also interjects that faith has its fruit in good works (Eph. 2:10). Thus we are not saved by works -- our works-- but we are saved for works, specifically the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:8-10).
b) Labor prompted by love
The work of faith is labor prompted by love. It is extremely difficult to separate one from the other. This phrasing is capable of being misunderstood, often coming to a meaning which understands small services rendered without hope of reward. However, Paul’s term of “labor” is a strong word. Morris clarifies its meaning with,
“[Paul] means that, out of love, the Thessalonians labored to the point of weariness. The word expresses the cost of their love, not its result. With or without visible success, love gives itself unstintingly.”
The objects of this love were the other members of the Christian community (2nd Thess. 1:3), leadership of the church (5:13), and Christians in other locations (4:9-10). The love of the Thessalonian believers expressed itself in hard, strenuous, and exhausting labor. Labor is the Greek word kopos, which denotes an arduous, wearying kind of toil done to the point of exhaustion. Unlike ergon (work), which focuses on the deed itself, kopos, looks at the effort expended in accomplishing a particular deed. Far from being simply an emotion, love sought the best for the other and labored for the other’s benefit (Eph. 4:16; Heb. 6:10). Wanamaker defines Paul’s view of love as,
“…the necessary manifestation within Christ’s body of the new creation already underway in the working of God’s Spirit, and like faith, it was inextricably linked to the activities that proceeded from it.”
 Morris (1991) 40
 Wanamaker (1990) 76
c) Endurance inspired by hope
The letter makes it abundantly clear that Paul’s readers had experienced serious opposition from their fellow citizens (2:14). Nevertheless, they had remained faithful to the gospel (3:6) because their hope was fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they believed would soon return from heaven to bring about their deliverance. “Endurance” is not a quiet, passive resignation but an active steadiness in the face of difficulties. Morris quotes Barclay as saying, “[Endurance] is the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope.” The hope the Thessalonian believers held was not some vague expectation about a better future but rather solid confidence rooted in expectation of Christ’s coming.
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,
Paul makes a very bold assertion on behalf of he and his co-workers, he says, “We know….He has chosen you.” Election. In the New Testament election, Gods choosing, concerns individuals and Christ. Therefore, election becomes the believers only when they are “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3-14). Thus an element of choice does enter into the process; if the believer chooses to be in Christ then they can be assured God has chosen them. Election gives the believer value that otherwise they would not have known. Notice the link Paul makes between these two ideas when he calls the Thessalonians the chosen, loved by God. This is no after thought of God, no sudden change of His plan but His eternal purpose. He has chosen His own from the foundation of the world (Eph 1:1). Nothing gives security and hope of salvation like the concept of election. Salvation, from first to last, is the work of God. Paul, therefore, was confident of the Thessalonians’ election because their faith, love and hope--the authentic saving and sanctifying gifts from God --were producing righteous deeds in their lives. All three of these Christian qualities are evidences that God’s election has taken place in a believers life. Believers can have deeply rooted assurance because of the work, labor, and endurance evidenced in their lives through the power and the working of the Holy Spirit.
However, Paul’s knowing did not just come from these outward, external facts but from how the gospel came to the believers at the beginning.
because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake
Paul continues with the word “because,” causing the reader to look back into the letter…because what? “God has chosen you, because.” Paul presents a foundation for this assured confidence. Paul reminds believers that, at Thessalonica the power of the Holy Spirit had been at work. The preaching received was not simply “with words.” Words alone are empty rhetoric methodology. More than that is required if people’s souls are to be saved. Paul mentions three things by which he knew that the preaching at Thessalonica had been effective.
First, the gospel “came…with power.” A vital force is in operation here. Paul assures believers in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone believe.” The proclamation of the Gospel is accompanied by with divine power. When the gospel is preached, God is there and God is working. The gospel, then, ‘is’ resurrection power to save the soul.
Second, this resurrection power is associated “with the Holy Spirit.” Genuine soul-transforming power attending the gospel preached is the work of the Holy Spirit energizing both the preacher and the hearer. Greene points out that,
“This type of affirmation is made over and over again in the New Testament, where the authors describe how the proclamation of the gospel was confirmed powerfully by the miracles wrought through the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:18-19; 1 Cor 1:6-7; 2Cor 6:7; 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4)
Third, Paul knew the preaching at Thessalonica bore divine power because the gospel came “with deep conviction.” Morris instructs that “conviction” can also be translated as “Christian certainty.” Assurance, Christian certainty, is not some human device whereby people persuade themselves; rather it is the result of the activity of the Holy Spirit working in the believer.
 Greene (2002) 95
You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
Paul and company knew that God had chosen the Thessalonians because not only had God sent them effective preachers preaching an effective powerful word but also because the believers in Thessalonica became “imitators of [Paul, Silas and Timothy] and of the Lord.” MacArthur brings further clarification to this word, “Imitators (mimetic) is the word from which the English term mimics derives.” Patterns of holy lifestyle immediately began replacing the old sinful lifestyle. The Thessalonians in the middle of a hostile pagan environment, without any established church leadership, became imitators (mimics) of the apostle, his co-laborers, and --most important-- Christ.
The greatest example for Christians is that of Jesus. Believers, in spite of “sever suffering, welcomed themessage with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” The word for “welcomed” is that which is used for the reception of a guest and it includes the thought of “warmth”. The believers welcomed all that came with being new creations in Christ. The imitation of the Lord must also mean imitating His bearing of affliction with joy (Heb. 12:2).
This, then, became another evidence of these believers in Thessalonica election. Yet Paul ends this section with one more piece of evidence for the encouragement and the assurance of this fledgling young Church.
And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
Starting this sentence with “and so” again gives pause to look back to familiarize the reader with what came before. Paul goes on to say that the Thessalonians became model believers. Why? Because of verse 4, 5 and 6. Because of the work of election, God’s choosing of the believers; Because the work of the Holy Spirit came through the preached Word with power and conviction; Because, through this same Holy Spirit empowered Word, the believers became imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ. They now also became a “model” for all believers in Macedonia and Achaia and area. This was another sure indicator of the Thessalonians’ election by the God of all creation.
What is the “Homiletical Big Idea” in this passage of hope, encouragement and assurance? It is the assurance believers can visibly look for in their election, initiated and brought about by God in the work of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter called believers to “…make sure of your calling and election; for doing these things, you will not ever fall” (2Pet 1:10). Paul gives the believer the tools to do this very thing. Paul began by thanking God for the believers in Thessalonica but also identifying the visible signs of election that they needed to withstand the stem of persecution in the hostile environment they lived in.
The same is true of believers today. Paul’s message is relevant and up-to-date, bringing the needed assurance to Christians of all ages and maturity today. In this era, where being true followers and imitators of Jesus Christ is neither politically correct (therefore not popular) or downright unhealthy in some countries (Christians persecuted to the point of death), Paul’s message gives security and much needed strength as believers realize the deep work of power God has provided for them through the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.